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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Is Organic Food Healthier?


The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published a review from Stanford University comparing organic foods to conventional foods. Media coverage of this study has been stunningly misleading with reports that organic foods are not healthier than conventional foods.

This isn't what the study says at all.

It's true that the amounts of vitamins and minerals weren't significantly different between the organic and conventional foods, but nutrients have nothing to do with whether foods are organic or not. Nutritional content has to do with the environment plants grow in.

Foods grown in soil that is rich in nutrients will be naturally rich in nutrients, whether or not they're sprayed with pesticides. Foods grown in nutrient-poor soil will be poor sources of nutrients, whether they're sprayed with pesticides or not.

So organic foods may not always be more nutritious than conventional foods but that doesn't mean they aren't healthier.

They are healthier. Even the Stanford researchers concluded that "Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute, pesticides approved by the Environmental Protection Agency have been linked to several kinds of cancer including "brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma" (connective tissue cancer).

Eating organic food reduces our exposure to cancer-causing pesticides and superbugs, and it decreases our risk of developing cancer and life-threatening infections.

Organic foods have other advantages too:
  • They don't contain genetically modified organisms
  • They don't contain growth hormones or sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and/or testosterone
  • They don't come from animals treated with antibiotics or other medications commonly given to livestock including anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-parasitic medications, cardiac stimulant drugs, and tranquilizers
  • Organic farming techniques conserve water and topsoil, improve soil quality, and strengthen biodiversity without polluting the environment 

So keep buying organic, especially when it matters most. Prioritize animal products because they are near the top of the food chain. This includes meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.

Also avoid the Dirty Dozen Plus most contaminated fruits and vegetables if they're not organic: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes, green beans, and leafy greens including kale and collard greens.

References:

Leffall LD, Kripke ML et al. Reducing environmental cancer risk: what we can do now. 2008–2009 Annual Report, President’s Cancer Panel. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. April 2010, p. 45.

Smith-Spangler C. et al. 2012. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Annals of Internal Medicine 157(5):348-66.

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